Bridging the Divide on Workers’ Comp Reform

In his March 11 commentary, “Insurance industry profits from workers’ comp reforms”, Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan raises an issue entirely unrelated to my column of March 5 on the direct cost savings to state and local governments that can be achieved if premiums in Illinois were merely average among the 50 states, instead of one of the highest.   His main argument was that the insurance industry was not passing along savings.

The simple truth is, state and many local governments are self-insured. There is no insurance company involved to reap higher profits at the expense of the worker. Mr. Carrigan does, however, raise a separate issue meriting our collaboration; the pivotal role of the insurance industry in achieving comprehensive reform that protects workers in every industry.

Insurance companies in Massachusetts, hardly a bastion of anti-labor policies, have continued to earn profits in recent years even after the state adopted workers’ comp reforms that lowered costs. Massachusetts achieved this simply by having a system that pays workers’ compensation claims faster than any other state. They get workers paid and back to work without the need for costly and lengthy litigation. Their example is a win-win model we can learn from and emulate here in Illinois.

I do not doubt the sincerity of Mr. Carrigan’s passion for working families. Labor has an essential voice in this debate and an important stake in its outcome. While we may not always agree on the best path to achieve reforms, I do believe we share the same goal of getting injured workers paid fairly, quickly, and back to work.

I would welcome an opportunity to meet with Mr. Carrigan and anyone with ideas on ways to reform the current system. We can and we must work together. One thing we know for certain: the status quo is not benefiting workers. We won’t be able to make progress until we set aside the tired, old rhetoric perpetually pitting business against labor.

For those old enough to remember the late 1970s and 1980s, think of the U.S.-brokered Peace Accord between Israel and Egypt in 1978 and the Reagan-Gorbachev partnership in the decade that followed as examples of two diametrically opposed interests coming together for the common good. Surely, if these historic agreements could be met during the height of the Cold War and tensions in the Middle East, those of us here in Illinois can set aside our differences to forge meaningful workers’ comp reform in our state. 

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